Local authors love short story challenge

Short story writers Janet Irvin and Brady Allen both trace their love of storytelling back to their childhoods.

“I’m the oldest of six children, and I babysat my younger siblings a lot,” explains Irvin, a Centerville resident. “I entertained my brothers and sisters by telling them stories, which had to grab their attention, keep them listening, and wrap up pretty quickly.”

Allen, who now lives in Oakwood, grew up in the countryside outside of Waynesville. He describes himself as a kid who loved sports, the outdoors, reading and theatre.

“My dad would come home after a long day at work and was often too exhausted to read with me, but he wanted to spend time with me, so he’d give me story starters (like) ‘Once upon a time, a…’ or ‘A man lived in a…’ and then it would be my job to fill in the blank,” Allen said. “If I ran out of steam, he’d start another half sentence for me to fill in to continue the story.”

With beginnings like those, it’s no wonder that both Irvin and Allen have become accomplished, and published, short story writers as adults.

Irvin, who is retired from teaching high school English and Spanish full time (most recently at Springboro High School), now teaches Spanish as an adjunct instructor at Wright State University, and is a wife and mother of two adult daughters. Her short stories have appeared multiple times in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine—a very tough market to break into. Her stories, often mysteries, have also appeared in smaller literary journals. In her writing, she says she likes to “focus on what motivates my characters, what impels people to do what they do.” (See www.janetirvin.com for details.)

Allen, who teaches creative writing, composition and literature at Wright State University, is the single dad of two daughters. His stories vary from surreal to dark fantasy to horror to dark comedy.

“In almost every story, my characters are normal folks dealing with abnormal circumstances,” he said.

His work has been published a wide variety of numerous literary magazines and anthologies; he is a past recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship for fiction from the Ohio Arts Council and received Honorable Mentions in both the fifteenth annual and sixteenth annual The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror published by St. Martin’s Griffin. His short story collection, Back Roads and Frontal Lobes will be coming out this fall. (See www.bradyallen.com for details.)

In the world of writing, paths often overlap. For several years, Allen co-edited a literary journal, Mudrock: Stories and Tales with Wright State University colleague Scott Geisel. Irvin and Allen didn’t know each other when Irvin submitted a short story called “Runners” to Mudrock. He says he still remembers her story and that he knew immediately that it was right for the publication. That was Irvin’s first publication, an experience that encouraged her to keep submitting her work to other magazines.

While both writers love to read novels and are working on novels-in-progress, both are ardent lovers of the short story form.

“I love the challenge of having to tell a story in perhaps only 2,500 words—or less,” Irvin says. “I find that challenge improves my writing overall.”

Allen agrees. “Every word has to have impact. In a novel, the writer has freedom to wander a bit, but a story requires constant momentum.”

Both writers have plenty of momentum for their own work: They keep files of story starters. For Allen, these story starters are first lines that come to mind throughout his day. For Irvin, they could be a first line, a title, a character.

And both have plenty of stories in the works. Irvin is in the process of revising a story that will come out in a future issue of yet another hard-to-break-into magazine, Sherlock Homes Mystery Magazine. And Allen is wrapping up a story he’s writing with his dad that reminds him of those evenings when his father gave him story starters.

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Sharon Short is the author of the novel MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA, to be published by Penguin Plume in February 2013, and the director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop. Contact Sharon with news about your book club or organization at www.sharonshort.com or e-mail sharonshort@sharonshort.com.